Saturday 7 May 2016

Invest for the 66%

I was fishing around for some data a few weeks' back (I can't remember why now) when I found this table linked from the 2014 National Travel Survey report for England.

The full table can be downloaded as a spreadsheet here (it's linked on p12 of the NTS, Table 0308) and I have shown the table in two parts with the first being trips per person by year and the second a cumulative percentage of trips under the given distances. This data is about the numbers of trips people make rather than mode share, so please don't confuse the two.

I don't know why there isn't UK data here, but I assume the devolved administrations have their own. I find the data interesting as it is a good summary of how people travel in terms of distance by mode. We need to be aware that this is about "main mode" and so other journey stages are not counted. In other words, someone being dropped off at the station by car is not counted, the rail journey is.

You can play with the data of course. Looking at the top part of the table, when we look at walking, we have 134 trips out of 175 trips under a mile made on foot which is 76%. Looking at the second table, 19% of trips are under 1 mile - I hope this makes sense. With private cars, looking at the top part of the table, we have 6+7 trips out of 175 made by car (as a driver or a passenger) which is 7% of all trips under a mile.

Looking at the bottom part of the table, in cumulative terms, 66% of trips are under 5 miles and this is very interesting as 5 miles is generally considered to be an easy distance to cycle at a reasonable pace, but not so vigorous as to need a shower (we're talking utility cycling here folks). For 2 to 5 miles (top section of the table), we have 7 out of 256 trips made by cycle (the table says 'bicycle' which sums up thinking here) which is 3% (I've rounded up). For car travel (driver or passenger) this is 128+70 out of 256 or 77%.

Surface rail has people making most trips at the 10 to 25 mile range and this is 8 out of 109 trips or 7%. 95% of all trips are under 25 miles.

The main document gives this as a little summary table as follows;

In walking terms, the sub-mile journeys are the easiest to make in terms of physical effort and I would argue that this is largely facilitates by the highway network having walking generally built in (regardless of quality). In addition, this type of trip will generally be a school journey or a trip to the local shops - remember this is not about commuting, this is about all trips. It also shows us that the highway network and access to private cars means that relatively short trips are dominated by the mode.

Think about 5 miles if you will in terms of your local town centre or place of work or anywhere you make day to day trips; are you aware how much of an area a 5 mile (or 8km) radius could cover? Let's look at four examples (Leicester, Brighton, Winchester and Stratford) where I have taken a point and drawn an 5 mile circle around (and I acknowledge Free Map Tools for help).

The maps starkly show how much space is covered by a 5 mile radius. The whole of the city of Leicester comfortably fits in the circle which means all trips to the city would be under 5 miles. Brighton is similarly catered for, notwithstanding the South Downs to the north which are on the steep side! Winchester is dwarfed by the circle and it shows a number of villages within. Stratford has a catchment which includes a colossal amount of people. I realise that if one lives on one side of town and is going to the other, the circle would have a different centre, but the point is many UK towns and cities will easily fit in the 5 mile circle.

My inevitable conclusion is the 2 to 5 mile distance is easily cyclable and with only 3% of people's annual journeys being made by cycle for that distance as opposed to 77% by car, it takes no leap of the imagination at all to realise that the either the car is too convenient or cycling conditions are too hostile. In fact, they are different sides of the same coin. 

This data does rather dismantle the argument that from a mass movement of people point of view, very few people travel a long way for their day to day trips, yet we are investing in long-distance high-speed rail and motorway/ trunk road building. Longer journeys in terms of town and cities will invariably be for people travelling in from outside and so we maintain a level of big-road (and not-so big road) capacity for people driving into our communities which maintains all of the severance, pollution and danger issues we have.

Over this distance and in places like those shown above, we simply cannot provide more motor vehicle capacity unless were are seriously considering knocking down homes and businesses and it we did, it just enables people to come in from further afield. for some places, park and ride might be an option, but buses still take up road space and car parks are needed. If there is no advantage to using park and ride, people will still drive into town and this makes it politically difficult to reallocate road space.

In any case, all of this leads me to an inescapable conclusion. We should be investing in the 66% of trips which are 5 or less miles and we should be doing so by making it easy, comfortable and safe to do so by cycle. This means we have to take capacity away from the private motor car, but if we do it right, people will choose the easiest mode. We may be able to take pressure of the motor capacity which is left and in that case, we can set aside other space for buses and possibly freight. But, we are not going to be able to change anything by investing in long journeys.


  1. Motorway investments would really only be all that useful if you were creating a bypass around a built up area or converting existing routes to being a motorway. It would be safer to have a hard shoulder and grade separation and a speed limit between 120 and 130 km/h than at grade crossings for a single carriageway at 100 km/h or duals at 110. Regional road upgrades to the standards the Dutch use and making them 70 km/h roads with about a 80 cm between the two direction lines with a rumble strip in the middle and clear zones on either side are very useful for the UK environment. Intercity rail is a worthwhile investment, especially as you convert more and more routes to a higher standard, perhaps something like 160 km/h routes with double tracks, sometimes more, grade separation, accessible stations, electrification, etc, and on the backbone routes for the whole country something like 250-350 km/h bullet trains are useful, they do offer direct and usually congestion free routes to the city centre. Adding bicycle parking to the rail stations, not something like maybe 20 racks but a multi thousand double tiered rack indoor structure with security cameras could encourage many people to use the trains.

    But back to bicycles. My primary concern for London and other built up areas in relation to the distance is ensuring that the route is stress free, this ensures that it's subjectively safe and people often don't notice the kilometres going by when you don't have a care in the world. And making sure that there are as few stops as possible dramatically increases your efficiency. For a single stop, think the effort of going an extra something like a number of hundreds of metres. And this needs to add the time stopped, for example at a traffic signal. A reduced or removed stop really increases your efficiency and increases the distance where it is feasible to cycle. Comfort matters a lot when you talk about cyclable distances.

    1. Safe *and* direct as well - twisty-turny back streets might be safe, but they are not direct (not always) and people get anxious about getting lost which is another barrier.

  2. You write: "We should be investing in the 66% of trips which are 5 or less miles." I agree.

    It is interesting to see what stands in the way of people riding a bike for utility purposes when safety is not an issue. As part of a Bike to Work programme in Denmark, researchers from the Danish Cyclists' Federation sought to identify what motivates people to use a bicycle on a regular basis, what causes people to change their transport habits and the individual barriers which they need to overcome (here).

    It seems that many people who do not cycle on a regular basis see incorporating the bicycle into their daily routine as a series of individual challenges, both practical and time-related. People generally have the idea that a change in one part of their daily routine would affect many other parts (e.g. what to wear, getting the children to and from school, which route to chose, etc). On their own these issues can seem insurmountable. This often leads people to stick with what they know.

    Substantially, there are only two challenges which are not time-related: what clothes should I wear? and, which route should I choose? I am most interested in helping people select the right route, and this I try to do by identifying routes which go to the places that people want to get to, which are direct, which are pleasant (where possible, but never to the detriment of the first two-listed features) and which are naturally or logically connected, forming a unified whole.

    Lastly, I note that the dominant form of transport for journeys up to a mile is the good old Shanks's pony. Inspired by your maps of Leicester and Brighton and so forth, I placed a one mile radius around the Mini-Holland town of Walthamstow (here). I should say that the Mini-Holland scheme in Walthamstow is likely to be a success, except not in the way I had first thought.

    1. Oh yes, even a mile is a huge area and the point about Walthamstow is well made; it is really starting to look like a people scheme rather than a cyclist scheme.

      With routes, so many people still to the main ones because they know the, although quieter back streets can be fine, but they need to be direct and relying on easily missed wayfinding can be a problem.

      People do learn routes of course, but it is nice to have some confirmation!